January: A Time for Cutting Back
When the cold temperatures settle in and the winds pick up, the overnight lows dip lower and lower, and the days reach their shortest, it’s very hard to find the motivation to be out in the garden. However, there are many things that need to be done in January, both in the gardens themselves and in preparation for the spring.
For many people, January is a time to re-focus after the holidays and start anew. Most people make New Year’s resolutions, a lot of which involve cutting back, be it on finances or the food we eat. Another common resolution is to exercise and be more active. Luckily, our gardens need to cut back too this time of year, and it takes a lot of activity and manpower to do this! The garden has been growing nine months strong since the previous spring and has been through it all: the heat, the dry, the wet, and the cold. It’s weathered and most all of our perennials look it, they’ve seen better days and they’re ready to relax for a month or two and start over. Our first hard freeze in Charleston came later this winter than last, and most things are showing the effects. Crinums and Alocasias are yellow and mushy, Cupheas and Salvias are brown and freeze burnt, and most ground covers have all but withered away. January is the time of year when we get out our hand pruners and go to town, ridding our beds of what has mostly become a plot of lifeless debris that needs displaced. By the end of January, the only really visible thing remaining are the roses and some ornamental grasses, which await February to get their annual hard-prune.
Another very popular January garden task is one that is made a lot simpler when we prune back our perennials: planting daffodil bulbs. After our big cut back, our flower beds are mostly vacant. This task however has cleared up plenty of real estate to plant hundreds or thousands of whichever of the numerous daffodil varieties you desire. The hours spent and hand blisters acquired from the repetitions of trowel stabs to the soil to make room for each bulb is more than worth it when March rolls around and we are treated to a sea of blooms all over town. With the help of our Park Angels, cadets from the Citadel, members of the Charleston Horticultural Society, and staff from the Charleston Riverdogs, space has been cleared and Daffodils have been planted, about 12,000 or so collectively in the beds of Brittlebank, Windermere, and Cannon Park.
One last thing we should do is brainstorm and prepare, which is something that we should really always be doing, but is really important this time of year. This is the time of year to think about new ideas or experiments for your garden this coming spring, and also the time to be browsing nursery and seed catalogs for new perennials to utilize and different varieties of fruits and vegetables to try in our vegetable gardens. Put a pen to paper and map out your next growing season so that you’re ahead of the masses when the days get longer and your farmer’s tan starts to come back.
So get out there! Don’t let the cool, often dreary winter days keep you from preparing your garden for the ever approaching spring. A good perspective to have on wintertime gardening is much akin to the New Year’s resolutions we make, or the strides we made in our glory days to achieve that spring break physique. By cutting back where we need to, putting in the hard work in the early going and staying on top of things, we can yield gorgeous gains in March, April and onward.